In the early 1970s, “The Queen City” was no stranger to urban renewal efforts sweeping the nation. It was around that same time that leaders at North Carolina National Bank (now Bank of America) envisioned a city where workers recruited from New York City and London could live and walk to their uptown place of work. It was CEO Hugh McColl’s belief that a great bank could not exist without a great city.
In order to provide decent yet attractive properties that would draw bank employees and prospective homeowners to the empty neighborhood, McColl tasked a team to form a Community Development Corporation (CDC) as an outreach of the bank’s efforts. The team responsible for carrying out McColl’s vision scouted out homes in other areas of the city, many of which were dilapidated historic Victorian homes, and moved them into Fourth Ward. President of the CDC, Dennis Rash, also developed the areas for economic prosperity, asking the bank to tailor a special loan program to combat drastically high interest rates and attract new homeowners to a fledgling neighborhood.
The team handpicked homes that would fit the vision they held for the neighborhood. Rash and other future Fourth Ward residents were also mindful about the layout of the neighborhood. The team heard about the work a young Oscar Newman was doing surrounding the theory of defensible space and crime prevention through urban design. They knew that conveying a sense of safety and security would be crucial in attracting potential homebuyers to the neighborhood. While searching for homes to move, the team wanted “eyes to be on the street,” and looked for front porches that allowed for steps leading up from the sidewalk, as well as street-facing windows. In addition to Victorian-style homes, the team also handpicked bungalows and old Sears homes.
The first residents formed the Friends of Fourth Ward in 1976 just as the Junior League completed the neighborhood’s first renovation on an 1884 Victorian Italianate style home. Friends of Fourth Ward continues to be an active neighborhood association. After 40 years, they are still fighting politically for the protection of the neighborhood, now for its preservation against encroaching development. Recently, the neighborhood association fought against the N.C. Department of Transportation over a highway expansion that threatened part of the neighborhood.
The Fourth Ward is now considered to be a model example of revitalization done right. The focus on historic preservation helped shape the vision for redeveloping Charlotte’s city center. As a result, the downtown and uptown areas boast a steady stream of development and reinvestment in the 40 years since the Fourth Ward residents first started working on their homes. Charlotte is now turning to face new challenges that come along with high population growth and ensuring affordability, as more people desire to live in the city center.
What other neighborhoods have examples of revitalization through historic preservation? Does your town or city have a real estate rehabilitation program? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Rachel Eberhard. Data linked to sources.